Although filmcritic.com called it “…a rock ‘n roll Sideways,” and that plaudit isn’t unfounded on some level, this non-fiction film is much more than even what it presents itself to be. It’s a fascinating true tale about something as simple, or profound, as finding your own place, somewhere in the world. At the same time, it’s also a layered, complex, insightful and edifying story about Maynard Keenan, known to the world as founder and lead singer of Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer, and his endlessly engaging partner, Eric Glomski, in their “spiritual” journey through the perils of Verde Valley, Arizona winemaking.
It features brief appearances by actress Milla Jovovich (also Keenan’s partner in Puscifer), and actor/comedian Patton Oswalt turns up in a sequence involving a hilarious exchange where Keenan is introducing Oswalt to a few of the wines from his vineyard. The opening “sketch” wherein we first see Keenan appearing as a guest on a local cable-access type show with a couple of semi-funny dolts as hosts becomes a running gag that actually helps tie together the irreverent understory involved here. Maynard Keenan is an enigma, for sure, a mysteriously thoughtful and serious man, whom as a creative artist carries a mask that he wields with great skill and will throw on at will. As a winemaker there is a melding of of his attributes as a creative being, and his approach to winemaking is as authentically revealing as his approach to music-making is often authentically unrevealing.
Directors Page and Pomerenke mostly stay out of the way in the first half of the film and let the story unfold very nicely with Keenan and Glomski providing first person backstory. Glomski, whom Keenan calls his mentor, is clearly an old soul, and a true earth child. His feel for the sensuality of wine is clearly part of what drew him and Keenan together after their initial first few meetings. Glomski explains the connection between wine and the sense of smell, and he couches the discussion within the context of several aspects of “sensualism,” and he also offers some insight into his own greater connection to the earth that resulted partly from his own discovery of Arizona and winemaking.
He and Keenan both felt an immediate connection and calling to the Verde Valley and to the tiny, thrice-burned down, former mining town called Jerome, Arizona, tucked into the slopes of some seriously rugged mountainous terrain about 5000 feet in elevation. Jerome is now a thriving tourist area with a strong creative community residing there, and it is becoming an oasis for the desert traveler looking for a glass or bottle of world-class wine from outside of Napa Valley.
Also lending his expertise, and providing more local insight, is Tom Pitts, Verde Valley Wine Consortium Chairman. Pitts is just one of the engaging subjects who deliver a strong sense of personality and a palpable sense of mission. Winemaking anywhere is difficult, complex, backbreaking, risky work, but to undertake it in the high desert of Arizona is to go where no winemakers have gone before. Keenan and Glomski and the other pioneers around them are blazing a trail in a world where there aren’t many uncharted regions left. Watching them live some of the anguish and angst on-screen, as well as the joy they get from wine, is a lesson in existential reality.
The wines become the nexus of the story as they filmmakers take us through the agonizing process of winemaking, while effectively juxtaposing it with the personal stories of Keenan and Glomski. The third element plays out in the explanation of how the world of winemaking operates. It almost acts a microcosmic crash course on the entire universe of wine. One particularly powerful sequence involves the introduction of a wine called Nagual del Judith (2007), named after Keenan’s mother, who passed away after struggling through almost thirty years of partial paralysis. During a tasting with Wine Spectator writer, James Suckling, whom the filmmakers apparently flew in from his home in Italy, Keenan pours the Nagual del Judith and the two men exchange a moment or two of what appears to be a kind of pure joy. The pure joy of friendship and wine, and the lasting memory of Judith, coalesce into an energy that comes through the fourth wall of the screen. It’s one of numerous beats in the film where the ecstasy and passion of those who truly know and love wine comes through loud and clear. Keenan and Glomski demonstrate a love and a passion that can only emerge from a very deep well. The blood of the earth is the wine of life. Blood Into Wine is an exceptional film, with a quiet, earthy poetry all its own.